Saturday, May 08, 2021

Local News

When School Is Out, Summer Camps Are In

As some students in the Regional 4 school system eagerly await the last day of school on Wednesday, June 9, families are making plans for childcare. For many, this includes summer camp.

Last year, some day camps did not operate, while others opened in late June with modified operations due to the pandemic. Overnight camps were closed.

Although this season may not be a full return to how summer camps operated before the pandemic, it’s getting closer to normal, with Governor Ned Lamont giving the go-ahead in late March for summer camp operators to start planning for the upcoming season starting on April 2.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recently updated its guidance for summer camps on April 24, well before many local camps start operating in June.

Denise Learned, executive director for Camp Hazen YMCA in Chester, says there is resounding desire from the community for both day and overnight camp options.

“We’re seeing a lot of interest,” said Learned, who added that current registration numbers, as of the time the Courier spoke with her in mid-April, are ahead of figures from prior years.

She said that as of mid-April, Camp Hazen’s day camp is already at about 70 percent capacity for the summer, and overnight is at 85 percent.

“I think parents are just wanting to get kids outside engaging with other kids because they’ve had a tough year,” said Learned. “It’s been really challenging, not only for kids, but for families as a whole, so parents are very excited, and kids are really excited about going to camp.”

Many kids are coming out of a school year in which electronics played a large part to accommodate the remote learning necessitated by the pandemic. This makes getting kids off screens and outside an important part of the camp experience this year.

Numerous scientific studies point to the benefits for children of spending time outside. Now, an added upside is healthy air quality to help prevent COVID-19.

“We’re going to be doing everything outside as much as we can, in terms of eating lunch with our day camp, in terms of all activities outside,” said Learned. “Very little time will be spent inside.”

Planning is already underway to deal with inclement weather at Camp Hazen YMCA, with outdoor pavilions and covered porches at the ready for campers on rainy days, she adds.

“We’ve purchased some additional tents to be able to spread out a little bit more. It’s not even just on a rainy day, (but) to be out of the elements, to be out of the sun. We think that is going to help us quite a bit,” she said.

After operating safely during the pandemic last year, with childcare programming for essential workers, summer day camp and vacation camps that were at capacity throughout the current school year, as examples, Camp Hazen YMCA only plans to build on its success.

“I think our families have trusted us and trust that we are holding ourselves to very high standards in terms of safety protocols related to COVID,” said Learned.

Families can expect similar protocols as last year for day camp, with mask wearing, physical distancing, cleaning and handwashing among them.

Protocols for overnight camp are developed in line with state guidance, which incorporates standards from the CDC and the American Camp Association.

Learned said that those standards are discussed and scrutinized by officials from these organizations and teams of medical professionals on regular conference calls with camp directors like herself.

“We had doctors and R.N.s (registered nurses) and APRNs (advanced practice registered nurse) on the call yesterday, trying to figure out what the best answer is and then the state has to interpret it and say what is best for the kids in Connecticut,” said Learned.

She added of the guidance, “the other thing is that it’s going to continually change as well,” depending on the circumstances of the virus.

The increasing availability of COVID-19 vaccines and eligibility for camp staff age 16 and up, will also play an important role in helping to ensure safe operations.

“We are strongly encouraging all of our staff to get that done,” said Learned. “We have some staff that might be coming from out of state and if they haven’t been eligible for a vaccine in their state, or haven’t been able to gain access, we’re pretty confident that they will be able to do that once they come to Connecticut.”

It’s still uncertain when the vaccine will be available for children age 15 and younger who may be attending a camp this summer, although the results of Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccine clinical trials with children as young as 12 are expected by June 2021.

Elizabeth Reinhart covers news for Chester, Deep River, and Essex for Zip06. Email Elizabeth at

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